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Kansas gives Gordon, Busch plenty to build on

October 09, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Veterans may be winless on the season, but they are hanging around in the Chase

RELATED: Full Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage

KANSAS CITY, Kan. --  Jeff Gordon walked into the media center just as Kurt Busch was discussing an on-track incident between the two earlier in the Hollywood Casino 400. Gordon grinned, squeezed Busch's shoulder, said a few words and managed to coax a grin out of the serious Furniture Row Racing driver. 

Both veterans have had plenty of reasons to smile lately.

Gordon is in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the 13th driver, the only time in the sport's history there was an extra addition to the postseason. Busch is the first driver to qualify for the Chase while driving for a single-car team, and his talent behind the wheel has breathed new life into the Denver-based operation. 

Fittingly, they finished two-three at Kansas Speedway, with Busch notching his second runner-up finish of the season and Gordon claiming his second consecutive top-five.

"What an unbelievable drive," Busch said. "We battled hard to come from 41st, and we did this in a backup car. It just shows the strength of this team. There's all these reports or stories and opinions about how small this team is, but … we got back out on the track after our wreck in Saturday's practice at the same time that Kyle (Busch) did, so it shows that our team can turn a car around just as quick as the Gibbs team; that's important."

Busch started 41st because of a wreck in a Saturday practice that occurred after the Friday qualifying session, in which the driver posted the 19th-best time.

His charge through the field was measured, moving up to 22nd  in the first 15 laps and cracking the top 10 on Lap 105 of 267. Busch didn't get into the top five until Lap 225, but he never fell below fifth after that.

In fact, on the final restart on Lap 249, Busch bustled past a pair Chase drivers to put his Chevrolet just behind eventual race winner Kevin Harvick.

"We started 41st, and there was cars and shrapnel everywhere, and just with the combination with the cold temperatures, the tires, it made it treacherous when you were around other cars," Busch said. "But, we finished second. We'll take it. We haven't quite had the start to the Chase that we wanted, but overall we have two top-fives out of four races. That's not bad."

The second-place effort was also Busch's first top-five at Kansas in 16 starts. It completes a collection, of sorts, as Busch now has at least one top-five at every track currently on the Sprint Cup schedule (although his top-five at Kentucky Speedway came in a NASCAR Nationwide Series start), and the showing comes at a place considered Furniture Row Racing's home track.

Gordon's top-five wasn't his first at the speedway, but it was still meaningful as he continues to jostle his way up the standings. The 42-year-old got his first Kansas top-five by winning the inaugural race in 2001. Lately, he's looking more and more like the Jeff Gordon who ticked off wins with seeming ease years ago.

"Earlier this year, I was probably as frustrated as I've ever been in a race car," Gordon said. "We'd had a tough year. Last year was tough enough, and then this year I thought that we'd gotten all that out of our system and we didn't seem to have. But I'll tell you what, we never stopped working and trying to get the cars to suit my liking.

"And when the cars are solid and giving me good feedback and I can get aggressive with it, then my confidence goes up. And right now my team has been bringing great race cars to the racetrack, not just in the Chase but about three, four races I think prior to that, we just really started making some gains on some things, and it's shown up week in and week out. I'm having a lot of fun right now."

Gordon's efforts Sunday puts him fourth place in the standings, 32 points behind points leader Matt Kenseth (Busch is seventh, 47 points back). Gordon hasn't finished fourth or better in the standings since 2009, when he finished third. 

With some of his career-best tracks coming up -- Charlotte this weekend, Martinsville on Oct. 27 -- Gordon hopes to tighten the gap on Kenseth (or whoever is in the points lead) heading into November.

"The confidence and how you feel … is all in the performance of the car," Gordon said. "And it's a team effort. I'm just proud of how we fought through a lot of the things we've gone through this year, and now when it matters most, we're making the best of it."

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